A case history in Arkansas

Fayetteville: Here, Bill and Hillary Clinton were married, taught at the University of Arkansas and launched his political career.

January 21, 1999|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Law Professor Ray Guzman is in full "Paper Chase" mode. His lecture on the rules of evidence is clipping along, he is surprising students with sudden questions -- "Miss Doherty, how would you rule?" -- and he's jumping from case to case to illuminate the finer points of admissibility.

Guzman is training the next generation of lawyers with this time-honored, doze-off-and-die method, much as he's done almost continuously since the 1960s here at the University of Arkansas Law School.

During one leave of absence, though, a new professor at the law school took over his class.

"A friend called me and joked, `If you want to continue teaching criminal procedures, you better get back here quickly,' " he said. " `The new guy is terrific.' "

Guzman's job remained safe then, and it's probably still safe now.

That new kid, Bill Clinton, left in 1975 for a dazzling political career that took him all the way to the White House.

And although President Clinton has been impeached and may be removed from office by the Senate, no one thinks he would actually come back here, to the first job he held and his base for his first campaign, an unsuccessful run for Congress.

Still, the specter of Arkansas Law's most famous ex-professor hovers over the campus these days.

Driving into this college town in the rolling northwest corner of the state, a sign proudly announces, "First Home of Bill and Hillary Clinton."

The couple married here -- with the future first lady joining Clinton on the faculty in 1974 after finishing her work on the Nixon impeachment inquiry -- and started the law clinic that students still staff today.

As the Senate trial continues, some students and professors here find themselves drawn into the real-life case study featuring one of their own, and they are as split on the subject as the rest of the country.

`Revoke his license'

"It's sad that Bill Clinton would lie under oath. He was a law professor here," said Michael Fairbanks, 23, a second-year student. "They should revoke his license."

"It's not really a trial," countered Dusan Price, also a second-year student, "it's political."

The trial, which plays to sparse crowds in the first-floor TV lounge here, is drawing less than rapt attention -- the outcome is predictable, it's all politics, law school leaves little free time, students say.

Arkansas Law holds a special place in the state's political and legal circles, serving as a sort of starting gate for future leaders. Its graduates include any number of names famous in the state and, now because of Clinton, in the nation -- Webster L. Hubbell, for example, and Rodney Slater, the secretary of transportation.

"If you want to practice law in Arkansas, you go here," said Asa Hutchinson III, a student here and the namesake son of one of the House managers prosecuting the trial.

His father graduated from here in 1975, but hadn't taken any of Clinton's classes. And while his uncle, U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, did not go to Arkansas Law, the senator's son, also named Tim, is a current student.

"I didn't even apply to any other law schools," said the younger Tim Hutchinson.

Both are interested in going into Republican Party politics as well, although the increasing scrutiny on personal lives does give them pause. Still, they are perhaps the students most interested in the Senate trial, and they ditched class last Thursday to watch Asa Hutchinson's star-making turn presenting the House's case.

"To be a law student while this is going on is just fascinating," Tim Hutchinson said. His cousin agreed, noting that much of what they're studying about evidence and procedures figures into the Senate trial.

Asa Hutchinson III can only shake his head at the interwoven personal and political history he feels on campus: His father representing the 3rd Congressional District for which Clinton ran unsuccessfully; Clinton as a law professor here participated in an on-campus seminar on the impeachment of Nixon; his father holding a similar session here in October, but this time regarding Clinton.

"Arkansas," he said, "is a small state."

The Hutchinson presence on campus adds to the sense of discretion many feel when discussing the case.

"People are afraid of saying anything because they might hurt someone's feelings," said Shawn Overton, 32, a Persian Gulf war vet now at the law school. "You have members of both parties here, the Hutchinsons, people involved in politics, and Bill Clinton has many dear friends still on the faculty."

From diplomacy to poultry

About 400 students, most of them from in state, attend the law school, which occupies a low-slung, modern building on a sprawling campus. The university boasts everything from a small yellow house that is home to the Fulbright Institute of International Relations to a shiny new building for the John W. Tyson Center of Excellence for Poultry Science.

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